When he was facing a blank page, Ernest Hemingway would tell himself, “Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know” (A Moveable Feast.)
Spoken word poet Sarah Kay teaches her students a trick to begin the poetry-writing process, telling them to make a like of “Ten things I know to be true.” (During her TED talk, she told the audience to pick three. “If we all started sharing our lists out loud…at some point, you would realize someone has the exact same thing or one thing very similar to something on your list. And then someone else has something the complete opposite of yours. Third, someone has something you’ve never heard of before. And fourth, someone has something that you thought you knew everything about, but they’re introducing a new angle of looking at it.”
These pieces of advice have been an inspiration and an encouragement for me.
On this small planet wrapped in the expanse of the universe, there are many things that are true. When trying to decide what “the truest sentence is,” I choose not to define truest to mean the truth that I have known for the longest or the truth that is a the heart of life. Instead, I focus on the truth that is most forefront in my mind, the one that I feel at that time. Usually, this helps me to follow an emotion or a thought to the real issue, which is an opportunity for writing. One poem that has sprung from this exercise was on the temptation of running away.
When I write my list of truths, I generally do not have to find the full ten before I realize that the dynamic of two of the truths is one of tension or interest. My most recent poem from this exercise came from the truths that 1. I am a woman and 2. I believe that the Bible is the word of God. (This poem is not done. I had to put it aside for a while.)
Truths can be rough, forcing you to admit things that make you uncomfortable or making you change your mind about something that you’d rather not. Some truths are better shared and explored and struck with different ideas to see how they sound, but others are held quietly and closely until the right time. Some truths are fact (I ate Frosted Bite-Sized Shredded Wheat this morning for breakfast,) and some are deeply held faiths (I hold to the truth that I am a sinner and Christ is my savior.)
While a poem about breakfast cereal may not be earth-shattering, I am not always trying to split the world in two with my poetry. And there may be many poems already about the grace of God, but sometimes I just want to add to the conversation from my angle.
What are some of the truths you write about?